The early history of popcorn is mostly a subject of speculation. It is reported to have been used by the natives of the Western Hemisphere before the coming of the white man. An old Chinese book in the Library of Congress, written in 1590, describes a type of maize, the kernels of which burst open when heated; however this could have referred to a type of maize other than popcorn, or even to sorghum, some types of which pop open when heated.
Our “early settlers” may have known and used popcorn, but a careful study of old farm papers, seed catalogs and premium lists reveals that they make no mention of popcorn until about 1880. Only in the last 50 or 60 years has popcorn developed as an important article of commerce in the United States. In the last decade there has been a still greater commercial expansion, due to the more extensive use of popcorn by stands, amusement parks, taverns and other resorts. In recent years several large companies have put popped corn on the market in cellophane bags and in tin or paper containers. This undoubtedly has greatly extended its use by family groups and others at parties and picnics.
Eldredge, J. C. and Lyerly, P. J.
"Popcorn in Iowa,"
Bulletin P: Vol. 2
, Article 1.
Available at: http://lib.dr.iastate.edu/bulletinp/vol2/iss54/1